For more than half a dozen years I’ve bought decadent chocolate and almond-studded shortbread cookies from one of the bakers at my local farmers’ market. Although I’ve used all sorts of ploys to get the recipe, the merchants have shared only small tidbits about the bars. “Yes, they do have extra dark chunks of chocolate in them,” they confirmed, and “Yes, there is a hint of sea salt,” they have told me. Beyond that, they have politely avoided revealing any other tips.
I’ve made these bars countless times, always with good results, but never quite like the original. I even printed a recipe for them in my syndicated column, and have included them in several cooking classes. Finally, after several recent tries, victory was mine. I simply switched from bittersweet to 70% dark chocolate and lowered the amount of sugar!
Nothing could be easier to assemble. Butter, flour, sugar, and sea salt are blended in a food processor, then coarsely chopped chocolate and nuts are stirred in. Then the dough is pressed into a pan and baked until golden brown. The cookies, which can be prepared two days ahead, can be cut into 10 large bars or into 20 smaller ones.
Serve these delectable buttery confections with cups of steaming coffee or tea for a mid-afternoon treat with friends, offer them with a bowl of juicy pears as dessert to end an autumn meal, or sneak one with a glass of milk for a late night snack like my husband does!
Dark Chocolate and Almond Shortbread Bars
2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for the baking dish
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt, preferably Fleur de Sel (available in some supermarkets and in specialty food stores)
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus extra for the baking dish
8 ounces 70% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (See note)
1 cup whole almonds (with skins left on), toasted and chopped (See note)
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- by 13-in pyrex baking dish. Dust with flour and shake out the excess.
2. Place the flour, both sugars, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times to blend. Then add the butter and process until mixture starts to come together and clump, about 1 minute or more. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the chopped chocolate and almonds; mix well to combine.
3. Press the dough into an even layer in the prepared pan, and bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes or longer. For generous servings, cut the cooked dough into 10 bars approximately 2 3/4 inch by 4 1/2 inches. (If you would like smaller servings, cut each of the 10 bars in half crosswise to yield 20.) Then let the cookies cool to room temperature in the pan. Carefully lift out the bars, using a metal spatula. (The cookies can be baked 2 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.) Makes 10 large or 20 smaller short-breads.
Note: I like to use Lindt’s 70% dark chocolate, available in my local supermarkets, in this recipe.
Note: To toast almonds, spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven. Bake until slightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Cool, then coarsely chop the nuts.